• Open Access

Reactive astrocytes promote the metastatic growth of breast cancer stem-like cells by activating Notch signalling in brain



Brain metastasis of breast cancer profoundly affects the cognitive and sensory functions as well as morbidity of patients, and the 1 year survival rate among these patients remains less than 20%. However, the pathological mechanism of brain metastasis is as yet poorly understood. In this report, we found that metastatic breast tumour cells in the brain highly expressed IL-1β which then ‘activated’ surrounding astrocytes. This activation significantly augmented the expression of JAG1 in the astrocytes, and the direct interaction of the reactivated astrocytes and cancer stem-like cells (CSCs) significantly stimulated Notch signalling in CSCs. We also found that the activated Notch signalling in CSCs up-regulated HES5 followed by promoting self-renewal of CSCs. Furthermore, we have shown that the blood-brain barrier permeable Notch inhibitor, Compound E, can significantly suppress the brain metastasis in vivo. These results represent a novel paradigm for the understanding of how metastatic breast CSCs re-establish their niche for their self-renewal in a totally different microenvironment, which opens a new avenue to identify a novel and specific target for the brain metastatic disease.